I have recently started on a long term project called “Azlin on Asian” on a Google+ community called Foodies+. As the title implies, I shall be doing articles on everything Asia, with a slant towards Food. Covering Asian festivals, I felt, was a fantastic way to begin the Edition, and despite it not being the right time of the year, decided to start with Chinese New Year.
Here’s an excerpt from the Chief Editor’s post:
“Ah, how can we forget our first bowl of asian noodles? The first time we bit into the rich crunch of a raw shrimp in sashimi? The discovery of the deep bitterness of cassava leaves in coconut curry? And, last but not least: the unbearable pleasure of crispy duck skin?
We can go on & on but we will shut up & turn this over to +Azlin Bloor (her friends call her, simply, “Lin”, but how can we give up the fantastic “AZ” her name starts with, the very metaphor of the beginning & the end).”
You can find the rest of his intro here: http://goo.gl/mJzEU
And this is my article:
This is going to be the start of something beautiful, I can just taste it, can’t you?
We are going to begin the Azlin on Asian Edition with a series of posts on some of the major festivals celebrated in Asia and more importantly, the foods that grace these festivities.
Broadly speaking, Asia, from a foodie point of view, can be looked at this way:
North East Asia – China, Japan, Korea
South East Asia – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia…
South Asia – India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka
Given its myriad of cultures and traditions, it is no wonder that there seems to be a never ending array of festivals in Asia, celebrated in the grandest styles and always accompanied by the most delectable dishes! We shall be exploring the major festivals celebrated and the “special” foods that are served on these days. Needless to say, all festivals are celebrated in some form in many countries but as an example, this is what we shall be looking at:
The Lunar New Year – China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia
Eid – Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, India
Diwali – India, Singapore, Malaysia
Christmas – Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, India
Let us then get the celebrations going with The Lunar New Year.
Despite it being more commonly known as Chinese New Year, it is in fact celebrated “officially” all around Asia. What this means is that it is an official public holiday in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, just to name a few, (and China, of course!).
The Lunar New Year, also known as The Spring Festival, marks the end of winter and falls on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, and celebrations go on for 2 weeks. It of course follows the Lunar calendar and usually falls between the 3rd week of January and the 3rd week of February.
As many of you might already know, each year is given the attributes of an animal, which follows the Chinese Zodiac system. The Chinese believe that the animal that rules your birth year has a profound influence on your character and destiny. This is, of course, the Year of the Snake. Going by 12 year cycles, 2001, 1989, and so forth, would also be The Year of the Snake. Anyone born under this animal’s clout is thought to be intelligent, intuitive, organised and decisive. Anybody a snake out there?!
Back to the celebrations! The fun begins with the extremely important Reunion Dinner on the eve, a meal that all my Chinese family and friends will move Heaven and Earth to get to! Growing up in Singapore, where the population then was about 75% Chinese (it’s more now), a trip into town on the eve of Chinese New Year was a surreal experience indeed, like an excursion to a ghost town!
One of my favourite aspects of The Lunar New Year is the rich symbolism that attends it, every part of the preparation and celebration is carefully orchestrated towards the banishment of the old and the attainment of new beginnings full of hope, wealth, good health and good fortune. From the colour red which is believed to ward off evil spirits to the tangerines displayed in homes, The Lunar New Year is a time resplendent with symbolic references. Here are some more examples:
Red packets of money (Hong Bao) – the colour red also denotes good fortune, happiness & abundance. These packets of money are given to kids and unmarried adults who aren’t working.
Dragon – symbolises prosperity & good fortune, on the 5th day, as part of the celebrations, you will find dragon dances being performed, especially in front of one’s place of business
The food eaten during the Reunion Dinner is in huge quantities, representing the wish for “more” or abundance. Each dish at the table personifies one or more of:
Did you know:
-all crockery and cutlery used for the Reunion Dinner must not be
damaged as this is indicative of a rift occuring in the family
-knives are a no-no as you will be cutting off any good fortune
-the Reunion Dinner has to be shared with family, if not, their love
will grow cold
And finally, we all know that Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun but can you name the following?
HEY, step away from that Search Engine now!
Land of Smiles (starting with an easy one!)
Land of the Thunder Dragon
Land of Morning Calm
Pearl of the Orient Seas
Land of the Blue Sky
India’s Teardrop (oh, you’ve got to know this one!)
The Emerald of the Equator
The Hermit Kingdom
The Lion City
Click here for the Hot Pot/Steamboat recipe that came next: http://linsfood.com/steamboat/